Players on Dubai trip should apologise for Covid postponements, says West Ham’s Gilly Flaherty


Gilly Flaherty
Gilly Flaherty (left) in action against Arsenal, who had one player test positive on return from Dubai

The players who forced the postponement of two Women’s Super League matches after trips to Dubai should apologise, says West Ham skipper Gilly Flaherty.

Manchester City’s match against West Ham and Arsenal’s trip to Aston Villa on Saturday were both called off after five players tested positive for coronavirus following travel over Christmas.

City’s Continental League Cup quarter-final tie against Chelsea on Wednesday has also been postponed.

The trips, which were not illegal but were against government advice, have caused anger and frustration across women’s football.

Flaherty said it reflected an “arrogance” that she said went hand in hand with increased wages and professionalism in the game.

She said: “Hopefully the girls who are involved will do the decent thing and come out and apologise.

“As much as the growth of the women’s game is brilliant now we are able to be full-time professionals and inspire the younger generation, I really don’t like the arrogance that the money and wages have brought into it.

“Players need to remain humble and remember how quickly it can change.”

Manchester City sanctioned the trips to the United Arab Emirates for four senior players, who have all since tested positive for coronavirus.

They all live in Manchester, which was subject to tier three restrictions, meaning they could travel but the government advised against it.

Three Arsenal players travelled to Dubai without the club’s permission, with one of them since testing positive for Covid-19.

Although the trio travelled while London was in tier four, meaning trips were restricted to essential business, Arsenal say they were given proof that they were for commercial reasons.

The Football Association said both fixtures were called off because neither side could field 14 players.

‘A rule in place that fits all’

Meanwhile, BBC Sport understands Birmingham City have had a request to call off their game against Tottenham on Sunday denied by the FA.

The Blues currently have 10 players fit, according to manager Carla Ward, and had one positive Covid-19 result in the latest round of testing.

Of the 10 players currently available for Birmingham, one is believed to be returning from a long-term injury.

Arsenal said as a result of one player testing positive “several first-team players are now observing a period of self-isolation” and it was for this reason, it is understood, that the FA granted a request to postpone their fixture.

“We are running really thin but if the FA say we have to play the game, we will go and play the game,” said Ward.

“We went to Leicester and had 12 players and 13 against Aston Villa – we requested for that game to be postponed as we had two players who hadn’t kicked a ball for a week and we were told no.

“There needs to be a rule in place that fits all. We can’t talk about a rule for Covid when Arsenal only have one positive. I think it needs looking at. The welfare of players needs to be at the forefront.”

There has also been criticism of the FA after Bristol City were beaten 8-1 by Manchester City in November when they were missing five first-team players because of Covid-19.

Reading and Scotland left-back Emma Mitchell, who used to play at Arsenal, tweeted: “We see you FA. Different rules for different teams.”

The FA says each game is assessed on it own merits, with safety being the priority.

Baroness Sue Campbell, the FA’s head of women’s football, told BBC Sport she was “personally disappointed” to see players flying to Dubai over Christmas but stressed it was “a matter for the clubs, not the FA” to deal with any consequences.

“When you see the pressures that everybody is under – whether that is the NHS or just people really struggling with mental wellness at home – I think it’s important that every single one of us acts as a role model,” she said.

Everton boss Willie Kirk was another to express frustration, saying his own players had been “exemplary during that period”.

“I had a few foreign players in tears after the Arsenal game because they didn’t want to go home any more in case they had problems getting back for training. I made sure they did because I felt that was important for their mental wellbeing,” he added.

“There was probably more important things to focus on during that period than going on holiday to Dubai.”

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